The health effects of tea have been much discussed and disputed over the years, with scientific research providing ever more in-depth understanding of how tea causes changes in our bodies, not all of them good. The over-consumption of tea can have dire effects, and with some conditions its drinking is totally unadvisable, yet tea is a sacred drink, achieving near-mythical status in society.
It’s one of the first questions we ask people who visit our homes. It accompanies long heartfelt chats, quick breaks, baths, breakfasts; it has different ‘types’ (baby tea; builder’s tea; with lemon or milk); the way it is made and presented speak volumes about us (Japanese tea ceremony; mug-and-teabag; teapot), different brands have different followers (in the UK, the brand of tea you drink speaks to your personality a little and you would have different expectations of someone who drank Twinings as opposed to PG Tips). We have esteemed it to the very highest proportions, and it’s remarkably equalising (for instance in the UK there is an innate supposition that everyone from the Queen to the lowliest dole-scrounger will enjoy and regularly indulge in a cuppa, though almost everything about the experience would naturally be expected to differ).
So I don’t know whether it’s the humble plant Camelia sinensis which is responsible, or the traditions we’ve built up around the imbibing of a cup, but we go back to tea again and again and again, fully embracing it as a bastion of society.
Rather than the physiological effects, it could be the associations we have with tea – relaxation, friendship, time-out – which make it so successful as a drink, and in a way we could all be participant in developing a mass self-fulfilling prophecy: we expect tea to make us feel refreshed/calm/relaxed/revitalised/welcome and so when we drink it, this is what we feel, thereby further reinforcing the illusion.
Whatever it is, I doubt tea will lose its high status any time soon and so I shall continue my fourth cup of the day and expect to feel so much the better for it.